why does black and white always look more moody, and more atmospheric than real vivid colours …
From the DNA on the 6th of February 2015
Each year, since 1953, on the first Thursday in February, the President of theUnited States of America takes part and leads the National Prayer Breakfast. It is an annual ritual attended by politicians, administrators, media, religious leaders, and other members of society. They wax eloquent about giving, sharing, tolerance and other lovely values that remain largely forgotten for the next 364 days. This year was no different. President Obama addressed the gathered crowd, and spoke about faith and values; and in particularabout
“the degree to which we’ve seen professions of faith used both as an instrument of great good, but also twisted and misused in the name of evil.”
President Obama, then went on to talk about how faith not only gives strength to achieve, but also to selflessly serve others. But, when one talks about the power of faith for ‘good work’, it is impossible to ignore the other, more warped, image of faith; where the distortion of faith leads to a almost nihilistic approach to the world. Faith imposed by the barrel of the gun. The President acknowledges this and says:
But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge — or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon. From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it. We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism — terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.
We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.
One of the problems with seeing such large scale damage caused by bigots claiming to act in the name of religion is that, we see a religions through the distorted lens of the hater, not the loving lens of the devout. And, while religious bigotry is not a new thing, the pervasive nature of mass media ensures that we see only the bigoted part of religion in all its brutality, illogic and intolerance; and ignore the billions who follow religions in their true spirit. President Obama refers to this:
Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ. Michelle and I returned from India — an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity — but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs — acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.
It is the last set of lines that has caused a furore in India. My issue with the statement is less what President Obama has said – he has the right to his opinions – and more an issue with the assertion about the Mahatma.
Gandhiji would not have been shocked by religious intolerance. He lived in a time that was far more brutal and intolerant than the world we inhabit today. He lived through the first world war, the independence movement, the second world war and the partition of India. He saw the aftermath of firing on peaceful worshippers in Jallianwalla; policemen being burnt alive at Chauri Chaura, the holocaust, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and brutal Hindu Muslim riots across India that scarred the psyche. The brutality and carnage that was on display during this period, has not been matched since. If you remember your history right, while the rest of India was celebrating Independence, Mahatma Gandhi was fasting to end riots in the name of religion.
(Watch this clip from the film Gandhi, featuring Ben Kingsley and Om Puri in a cinematic representation of the human tragedy of religious riots).
In each of our cultures, there have been great acts of courage, belief and faith. There have been people who have fought relentlessly to end the tyranny of men over other men (and women). In each of our cultures and nations, there have been those who have upheld these values, and there are those who choose, willfully, to restrict rights of others based on religion. I am sure that Thomas Jefferson would have been appalled at the hounding ofEdward Snowden. I am certain that Martin Luther King Jr. would have been saddened by the state of race relations in the USA, especially the impunity with which the police kill young, unarmed black men. Margret Sanger, the pioneer of birth control, would have been devastated at the fact that in 2015, women in parts of America have no control over their own body and male politicians choose whether women should have access to birth control (including abortion). Roosevelt, the father of the New Deal, that got the USA out of recession and back to work, would have probably joined the Occupy movement. I am not even sure what the founding fathers of the United States would have made of Gitmo. And, while these may seem like random sentences linked together to prove a point, they are not. These acts derive from the USA moving more and more towards religious conservatism, and nationalism that is derived from it. In many of these cases God, Nation, Patriotism are tied up in one tangled knot and is difficult to unravel. And these need to be separated, to make society a better place. And, this is the lesson India can learn from the USA – not to mix up our various identities by putting them in the blender to create a giant all encompassing identity.
Would Gandhi have been shocked by what is happening in India? I don’t think so. He would have been saddened. But rather than wasting time on emotions, what Gandhi would have done was what he always did; direct action, appealing to the conscience of the people to come together and defeat hatred. The reason he was successful was because he enabled people to become better/greater than what was expected of them. And, that is what makes the Gandhi experiment unique. Not that he was non-violent or practised ahimsa. What made Gandhi a Mahatma, is that he raised the consciousness of the nation towards that mode of conflict resolution. And, while riots are covered, and hatred is amplified, there are a lot more people working towards rebuilding the peace, healing the wounds, and rebuilding trust.
Do read the rest of the speech here, it is truly inspiring and helps all of us contemplate. If we get stuck on one line, we will miss the wood for the trees.
i wrote this, for the dna on the 5th of Feb
In the last 10 days, two very different incidents have taken place that have serious implications on freedom. The first is the hounding of Shireen Dalvi, the editor of the Mumbai edition of the Urdu daily, Awadhnama. She published a Charlie Hebdo cartoon on the front page of her paper in the context of a story. As expected, there was furore and outrage – much of it not reported because it took place in Urdu language. Since then multiple police cases have been filed, the Mumbai edition of the paper has been shut, and Dalvi is on the run, escaping the multitude of FIRs filed against her. This is one more statistic of expression being stifled and truth being suppressed. Journalists in India have been trained by the law of the land to avoid content that could lead to ‘communal disharmony’. Invariably, this means that when they report riots, the story will be couched in sanitised terms such as ‘two communities clashed over a religious procession in place x’. From a news point, it tells you nothing. From a legal point of view, it keeps you safe. But, the point is that if journalists are supposed to record the first draft of history, they cannot do so by sanitising those things that offend people. Ultimately, if the profession has to be the watchdog, it cannot be told that there are things you cannot bark at. Explaining issues to people in context is a vital part of journalism. Dalvi has paid the price for doing her job. The Right to be Offended seems to have, once again, triumphed over the right to know and the freedom to express without fear.
The second incident, which has got tremendous media attention, is the case of AIB. One would be wary of using the full form of AIB in a family newspaper, but all those who have seen or heard of the group know what it means. The group of comedians put up a live show called AIB Roast, where their friends, Bollywood celebrities, turned up to display their sense of humour while being ‘insulted’. The show was a ticketed one, which means that only people interested in that genre of humour purchased it. And, those who did, claimed that they enjoyed it. The show was edited (a two-hour live show edited to 50-odd minutes) and was put up on YouTube, where again people who were interested, watched it. Given the nature of the show, and the platforms it was available on, there was little or no chance that people who are not interested in that kind of humour would view it. But, this is India. People will read books that they aren’t interested in with the purpose of protesting; they will watch films they don’t like with the purpose of getting them banned; and they will watch a show whose humour they hate, to call for a ban. And, that is exactly what happened. The producers have withdrawn the show from YouTube. The Right to be Offended has triumphed once again, over the right to free expression.
The question now arises, what offends people and can you legislate offense? A few days ago, in a case regarding the application of the draconian section 66A to ‘gross offense’,Supreme Court justices J Chelameswar and Rohinton F Nariman made a very crucial observation: “What is grossly offensive to you, may not be grossly offensive to me and it is a vague term.” It is this vague term of causing ‘offense’ and ‘hurting sentiments’ that stands in the way of our freedoms. So rather than rail against this ‘gross offense’ and ‘hurting sentiments’, this author thought she would list at least 5 issues that cause her deep offense, and that hurt her religious and constitutional sentiments, and asks the readers of this column to do the same.
a) Children living in the street, facing grave dangers and losing their childhood, causes me great offense, and deeply hurts my sentiments. Sixty eight years after Independence, children should have a decent present and a good future. And, I would like all those responsible to be banned — politicians, administrators, local goons — and to pay the price of this, just the way Shireen Dalvi and the rest are paying.
b) People throwing garbage, spitting on the street, and dumping industrial waste in water sources seriously offend me. I believe that nature, land, rivers, mountains are all sacred spaces, and this consistent, deliberate pollution is hurting my religious sentiments and causing me great pain. Could we ban all those who indulge in such behaviour?
c) Sound Pollution is my pet bugbear. I believe in worshipping in silence, where I can contemplate the nature of the Universe and seek guidance from it, in peace. When loudspeakers blare bad music, sermons, satsangs etc, not only am I forced to consume religious content I don’t want to consume, but also, the out-of-tune renditions offend my ears. This not just violates my right to practise my religion (of one) in my own way, it also impacts my musical sensibilities. Who can I file a FIR against for gross offense?
d) People who tell women what to wear and how to behave. I am fundamentally offended by patriarchal behaviour. It is none of anyone’s business. Women are not their chattel. Not even women in their family. What do you do about the offense caused by people who want to deprive almost 50% of the population of their rights?
e) Discrimination offends me. It doesn’t matter if it is gender based, religion based, caste based – it simply offends the daylights out of me. Religion tells me that all are equal in the eyes of God. The Constitution tells me all are equal in the eyes of the law. How do you deal with people who impinge on both rights? How do you deal with the offense caused?
If we go down this logical path, there won’t be anything left to ban, because everything would be banned. Welcome to a sterile world – where there is no humour, no offense, no freedom, no opinion, no comment, no fiction, no poetry. Sounds a bit like the moon. Not conducive for life, living and civilisation.
I look at media centres and media peripheries, in this article in the DNA. What makes certain events more important than others?
Let us look at the difference in response to the killings of journalists from Charlie Hebdo in Paris, and the killings by Boko Haram in Nigeria
Early this year, while the world was watching the events in Paris unfold, as Islamist terrorists, part of the Yemani al Qaeda, murdered 12 people in cold blood, the extreme Salafist terror organisationBoko Haram attacked and killed 2,000 people in the fishing town of Baga, Nigeria. While the former received acres of newspaper coverage, hours of air time, and terabytes of Internet outrage, the latter passed without even a blip in popular consciousness.
Within India too, there are clear differences between regions and states that make the headlines, and those that are ignored.
If you do a Google search for “floods in India 2014”, you will see a list of articles and sites that look at the human devastation caused by nature’s fury. Assam, Bihar, Odisha and J&K were all impacted by floods — hundreds of villages were submerged, thousands of people were displaced, and scores died. Yet, when it comes to both media attention and public consciousness, the one we would remember is the floods in J&K.
This is primarily because
The media centre tends to be aspirational, and aspirational is defined in terms of success, wealth, power, colour, caste and religion — and other things that we all like to believe are no longer relevant. The world is more concerned about people dying in European countries than it is about death in Africa; India is more interested in the states that are close to Delhi and the further away a state is from the national capital, the less important it becomes. Also important is the social class, caste and colour.
The full article is here – do read and let me know what you think
I write for the @Dna on the 14th of January
I am not Perumal Murugan, but I very well could be. So could you or anyone else, who run afoul of a tiny, vocal, rabid fringe that thinks nothing about hounding people who go against their view of what is right. These are people who are an antithesis to the idea of a plural, diverse, multicultural nation and want this country to embody their narrow view of religion, culture and nationhood. It is important that we pay heed to this now, and stand against it, because this is not just a vague concept of ‘freedom of expression’. If we, the people, let this fester and grow, we will end up with the same kind of restrictions that we see across our borders.
Who is Perumal Murugan and what is Mathorubhagan or One Part Woman about?
Perumal Murugan is a Tamil author, poet and Professor and the author of six books.
Photo posted on the author’s Facebook page
Penguin’s author description of him is:
PERUMAL MURUGAN is a well-known contemporary Tamil writer and poet. He has written six novels, four collections of short stories and four anthologies of poetry. Two of his novels have been translated into English to wide acclaim: Seasons of the Palm, which was shortlisted for the prestigious Kiriyama Award in 2005, and Current Show. He has received awards from the Tamil Nadu government as well as from Katha Books.
The book in question Mathorubhagan, whose English translation is called One Part Woman, narrates the story of a childless couple.
Kali and Ponna’s efforts to conceive a child have been in vain. Hounded by the taunts and insinuations of others, all their hopes come to converge on the chariot festival in the temple of Ardhanareeswara, the half-female god. Everything hinges on the one night when rules are relaxed and consensual union between any man and woman is sanctioned. This night could end the couple’s suffering and humiliation. But it will also put their marriage to the ultimate test. (blurb from the Kindle edition of the book)
(I purchased the Kindle version of the book yesterday, and read it till late at night and am awestruck by the author’s characterisations, his narrative and his empathy towards humanity).
Who wants the book banned?
Lots of groups. According to the author :
I think, for the first time, caste organisations and Hindu organisations have come together on the same platform. The Hindu Munnani and three other caste organisations are running the campaign. Their objective has nothing to do with the book, since they are not ready to relent even after I promised to change the name of the village in the next edition of the book.
The book has ran afoul of the right wing Hindu organisations including the RSS and the Hindu Munani. They believe that Mathorubhagan offends their religious, cultural and caste sensibilities, in addition to insulting their hometown, women in their hometown, and the temple. In December, the Hindu had reported on this issue :
Alleging that Tamil writer Perumal Murugan’s novel, Madhorubhagan, has portrayed the Kailasanathar temple in Tiruchengode and women devotees in bad light, the BJP, RSS and other Hindu outfits have demanded its ban and the arrest of the author. They burnt copies of the book on Friday at Tiruchengode.
What was the impact?
Author Perumal Murugan has died. He is no god, so he is not going to resurrect himself. Nor does he believe in reincarnation. From now on, Perumal Murugan will survive merely as a teacher, as he has been.
He thanks all magazines, media, readers, friends, writers, organisations, political parties, leaders, students and anyone else who supported Perumal Murugan and upheld the freedom of expression.
The issue is not going to end with Madhorubagan. Different groups and individuals might pick up any of his books and make it a problem. Therefore, these are the final decisions that Perumal Murugan has taken:
1. Other than those books that Perumal Murugan has compiled and published on his own, he withdraws all the novels, short stories, essays and poetry he has written so far. He says with certainty that none of these books will be on sale again.
2. He requests his publishers – Kalachavadu, Natrinai, Adaiyalam, Malaigal, Kayalkavin not to sell his books. He will compensate them for their loss.
3. All those who have bought his books so far are free to burn them. If anyone feels they have incurred a waste or loss in buying his books, he will offer them a compensation.
4. He requests that he be not invited to any events from now on.
5. Since he is withdrawing all his books, he requests caste, religious, political and other groups not to engage in protests or create problems.
Please leave him alone. Thanks to everyone.
Books by Perumal Murugan posted on his Facebook page
Historically, there is precedence for this kind of recanting under the threat of violence. Galileo, ran afoul of a corrupt, centralised and dogmatic Catholic Church of his era. They objected to his scientific theories that repudiated the scientific vision of the universe laid down in their scriptures.The Church believed that the Earth was the centre of the universe. Galileo showed that the Earth moved around the sun. For this, the Church ordered him to be placed under arrest and face the inquisition. A 70-year-old Galileo recanted.
After an injunction had been judicially intimated to me by this Holy Office, to the effect that I must altogether abandon the false opinion that the sun is the center of the world and immovable, and that the earth is not the center of the world, and moves, and that I must not hold, defend, or teach in any way whatsoever, verbally or in writing, the said false doctrine, and after it had been notified to me that the said doctrine was contrary to Holy Scripture — I wrote and printed a book in which I discuss this new doctrine already condemned, and adduce arguments of great cogency in its favor, without presenting any solution of these, and for this reason I have been pronounced by the Holy Office to be vehemently suspected of heresy, that is to say, of having held and believed that the Sun is the center of the world and immovable, and that the earth is not the center and moves:
Protesting against a book, a painting, a cartoon, a caricature is par for the course, in a vibrant, diverse democratic republic. But, what is not acceptable, is hounding of artists, writers, and those who dissent against a unified view of a religion or culture. People have the right to profess their faith and follow their cultural norms. What is dictatorial and intolerant is not just to expect that everyone else does the same, but also threaten to cause a law and order issue until such time that the offending piece of expression is banned.
History tells us that Galileo was right. The Church finally apologised to him in 1992.
What is the role of the State ?
The state has one very important role – to protect the rights of the individual citizen and ensure that politically motivated groups do not impinge on our constitutional rights. The Tamil Nadu state administration has failed miserably in protecting the rights of Perumal Murugan. They have allowed fringe elements to bully, harass and finally exile a writer from his mode of expression. They need to collectively hang their heads in shame.
Do people have the right to protest against books, films and other forms of expression?
Yes, unambiguously so. They have the right to show their ire and objection, it is part of their right to free expression. But, and this is an important caveat, this stops short of violence, threats of violence, threats to life, livelihood and hounding of people till they flee the country or stop writing. Freedoms are not just for people and causes that you like and support, they better be present for everyone. Every time the State fails to protect the right of expression, the right of the individual and allows fringe groups to gain victory, each individual in India loses a little bit of their freedom. This is not about Perumal Murugan alone, it is about all of us and our right to express without fear.
Finally – what is this about?
An author hounded till he gives up writing. This is not what my religion or culture or nation is supposed to stand for – this is not in my name. As a culture, dissent is a part of our civilisational ethos, as is questioning everything around us. Offence or even blasphemy is not a good enough reason to stifle and strangle expression of ideas and views. We have always been a culture that respected dissent. When Tulsidas wrote the Ramayan in a language people could understand, he ran afoul of the orthodoxy who bayed for his blood; when Dnyaneshwar wrote the Dnyaneshwari (a commentary on the Bhagwad Gita in Marathi) that every one could understand, he faced the same problems. Today, no one remembers the names of those who opposed these great men. All we do, is imbibe from the Ramcharitramanas and the Dnyaneshwari.
Today, we are facing one more push back from the orthodox and those who wish to interfere in our right to religion and free expression (which is both a constitutional right and a civilizational one), it is time we took a stand and asked our government to be steadfast in protecting our rights.